This is how I outlined my own understanding of Christian faith in 1990 as I was considering how I might teach a course in systematic theology. I stumbled across it recently while rummaging through some old files. It follows the example of many classic systematic theologies by stating a series of theses which could then be clarified and supported by more extensive discussions (only I never got around to those more extensive discussions). There is much I might reword now, and I would go into much more detail on certain topics, as well as adding some. While it uses some “big words” like “unsurpassable,” “irreducible,” “self-surpassing,” etc., it intentionally avoids technical philosophical and theological jargon. (My principal conversation partners at the time were process theologies and theologies inspired by Karl Barth—an almost impossible combination! But I decided to keep these conversations in the background.) It’s important to say that, after over thirty years, there is nothing that I said then that I would take back now. I might want to explain in more detail what I meant, but I could still affirm all of this without fingers crossed.
God is Love’s unsurpassable realization, whose activity both affects and is affected by all others, and whose unity can be appropriately conceived as Love’s irreducible, threefold communion: the Lover, the Beloved, and Love Binding.
God’s reconciling love for us is available to some extent and in some manner at every time and place in this world, but its never-wholly-classifiable way of being available has reached an historically unsurpassable peak in the life, death, and self-surpassing destiny of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the person who lived and taught in the community from which his church arose, who was crucified by his opponents, abandoned by his followers, but raised and vindicated by God, whom God presents and to whom God testifies in the church’s ongoing life.
By taking Jesus’ life into the center of God’s own life, God has declared, and through the Spirit continues to declare, that Jesus’ life among us was no less than God’s own life among us, and that the life Jesus now lives is at the very center of everything God does, has done, and will continue to do, so that those who share God’s declaration, confessing Jesus as the Christ, are bound to call all saving acts by his name, no matter what others may insist on calling them.
The church is comprised of those who have responded with faith in God’s unsurpassable Word, Jesus Christ, who thus find themselves called by God the Lover to turn from inordinate self-concern and idolatry through union with Christ, the Beloved, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Love Binding, and who thereby live God’s unending life in their own lives even as their own lives are unendingly in God’s.
By attending primarily but never exclusively to the variety of churchly means of grace, which present Jesus Christ in his self-surpassing destiny, the church in all its expressions and members variably and contestably discerns, while striving to enact, God’s ongoing work of reconciliation and self-revelation in its own life and in the life of others.
The church waits and works for a time, scarcely to be imagined but never to be discounted, when its own Christ-centered history of reconciliation will be justly and peaceably interwoven with all other comparable histories in such a way that the unsurpassable import of its own history need not diminish, or be diminished by, the comparable import of others’.